Friday, March 01, 2013

Katie Roche

Watching Teresa Deevy's engrossing 1936 drama Katie Roche made this contemporary woman extremely grateful to be a contemporary woman. Katie is a servant in a small town in Ireland in the 1930s. She works for a nice woman; she is not abused; but as an uneducated woman of indeterminate heritage, she has few options.

Patrick Fitzgerald, Wrenn Schmidt
Photo: Richard Termine

Then life unexpectedly presents her with a choice, between two men, each with definite pluses and even more definite minuses. Can she make the right decision? Is there a right decision? As a young woman, does she have the experience and perspective to choose correctly? As a strong, sometime impetuous woman, who wants to be good, even saintly, can she force herself to be the person she needs to be to survive? Is it fair that she must live with the fallout of her youthful (often trivial) mistakes for the rest of her life? (Absolutely not. And yet she must.)

When Katie marries Stanislaus, a much older man, she briefly thinks that she has freed herself from her life in service, but then she realizes that her husband expects her to have much the same role in their marriage. She banishes her sad astonishment, though, and tries to make the most of her situation.  Over the next few years, Katie bounces between angry rebellion and humbled regret. All she can do is react and respond and act out; what she cannot do is shape her life to her own needs and desires (in particular, her desire to do something or be someone wonderful). Stanislaus, meanwhile, has no trouble reconciling his image of himself as a nice man with his willingness to run Katie's life as though she were his puppet. He's not physically abusive, but he's sure that his choices for her are correct and that her opinions about her own life simply don't matter.

Deevy vividly depicts the hopes, dreams, and limits of each of her characters, with a sense of a time and place that makes you feel that you've visited their world. She is much helped in this achievement by Jonathan Bank's smooth direction, Vicki R. Davis' attractive sets, Nicole Pearce's evocative lighting, and Martha Hally's character-defining costumes.

Wrenn Schmidt is superb as Katie, all nerves and resolution, sure and confused, restrained and (mildly) wild, trying desperately to be a good girl--or at least to understand what that would entail. In a role full of big moments, she gives a marvelously subtle performance. Patrick Fitzgerald as Stanislaus makes some odd choices, and it takes about two and a half acts to figure out what he is trying to do. I think he means to present Stan as someone who feels that he must always be "nice," no matter his actual emotions, and I think he ultimately pulls it off. John O'Creagh stands out in his comfortable and instantly real performance in a small but important role.

The people at The Mint have made a commitment to rediscovering Teresa Deevy and sharing her with the rest of us, and we have much to thank them for.

(press ticket; third row on the aisle)

No comments: